Amnesia does many things right.
I've grown accustomed to indie games quite swiftly, and learned to love them too. I now fully support new developers trying to impress consumers armed with sometimes nothing more than low budget and a good idea. After all, most big developers are too busy copying the current trend or creating the next best FPS experience only to try competing with the number one game in the most popular genre and hopefully snag a larger piece of the pie. They're full of it, and we're left full of games that do essentially the same thing.
Indie games often blow a lovely breeze of fresh air into the industry. That's what the creators of Amnesia: The Dark Descent did. With a small group of people and a budget unimaginable times lower than most gaming blockbusters they used what they had in hand to create the best game they could. And they did an amazing job, I must add.
Amnesia is one of those games that can be called "unlike anything you've ever seen", but since that's used an awful lot, let's just say that Amnesia successfully blend many different techniques, most of them are not in any way new, to create something spectacular. The Survival Horror genre for example, it fits pretty well in that, does it reinvent the genre in any way? Probably not. It simply does it right, the way Survival games should be. No machine guns or rocket launchers, no grenades or overpowered protagonists. Just the instinct of survival surfacing.
In fact, while games with lots of guns did Survival right in the past, this game takes it to a whole new level. Amnesia limits you to the extreme, you won't wield any gun, you won't have a knife for when things get ugly, no grenade will be found scattered around left by god-knows-who. You won't have anything to defend yourself, actually, you'll go through the whole game without killing anyone. I know just the sound of a game that won't give you a gun or at least a sword to do some damage might scare most gamers to the bone, to a point where not even this game's gruesome imagery and gloomy atmosphere could match.
Don't worry, what this game packs is more than enough to leave most satisfied. Immersion is the keyword here. The game will warn you beforehand, it is not supposed to be "played", it is supposed to be "experienced". Watching a gameplay video on Youtube might have similar effects. Most of the time you just walk around having flashbacks and finding ways to move forward. The story is well presented, the voice-overs fit perfectly and showcase a quality some high-budget titles only dream of achieving.
The game takes some ideas that have worked out in the past to forge its personality. Reisdent Evil's notes and diaries to catalog many left behind papers or other sources of vital plot information; all available for browsing and researching for clues about what the next step should be. Silent Hill's relentless atmosphere, immersing the player in madness with its well-designed dark corridors and badly lit rooms. Eternal Darkness's sanity meter and effects, resulting in bizarre events going on when the leading character lost most of his mind.
Nothing revolutionary here folks, just simple ideas stitched together forming a cohesive horror experience. Horror doesn't need high production costs, that's why most 70's or 80's horror films are still the best, they are filled with archaic psychological terror that the seemingly minimalistic approach only enhances the horror. Amnesia doesn't try to be something it clearly isn't, it embraces what it really is, and I cheer it that.
Basically the player spends the entirety of the play-time trying to solve puzzles and witnessing how the story unfolds. Of course you'll also spend most of the time preoccupied about some occasional jump scare, since the game feels like it always has something to scare the heck out of you just waiting around every corner. You just keep thinking to yourself when and how that will happen, even though it might never happen. Simply because they know that anticipation about something that may or may not happen can be just as frighteningly scary as a zombie/monster jumping out of the closet and onto you.
If you somehow face one of those rare moments where a monster is after you, there's nothing more to do than run and hide. Who knew not having a Magnum to watch your back could be just as or even scarier. Looking at the threat will drain Sanity, as sanity decreases low sanity effects become often. Cockroaches walking around your screen, water turning into blood, paintings getting disfigured, depending on how bad is you might be unable to move for a few seconds dropping on the floor out of fright.
Many events could lower your sanity, like walking into a torture chamber for the first time and having flashbacks of the terrible occurrences that took place in that area, for example. Its a good thing that you regain sanity as you progress and are able to solve puzzles. The main danger in Amnesia is actually the dark. If you stay in the shadows for too long you'll start to lose your mind as darkness takes over you. An oil lantern will be your best buddy, also many (but limited) tinderboxes can be found to light candles and torches around the castle. Even though tinderboxes and extra oil for the lantern are widely found, anyones who doesn't rationalize will be left without.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a fine example of Survival Horror. While none of what it actually does feels fresh or innovative, it certainly feels done right. The game is heavily focused on its plot and atmosphere, even though the gameplay mechanics do the job pretty well in making the gamer participate. Since you don't actually fight anything, nor will you have any kind of weaponry at your disposal it might get tedious for some players. But anyone looking for an incredibly immersive experience focused sorely on puzzles and its solid plot should give this game a go.